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Israel’s Falash Mura immigration from Ethiopia - a painful 30-year saga

How Israel’s Falash Mura immigration from Ethiopia became a painful 30-year saga, with no end in sight

By Cnaan Liphshiz, June 14, 2022

…. A ceremony at Hatikvah synagogue to send them off was attended by 1,000 people dressed mostly in white and ended with the singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. The service was led by local young men who have been studying Judaism online with Menachem Waldman, the Israeli government’s person in charge of issues related to converting Ethiopians.

Some of the new immigrants, including Kefale Tayachew Damtie, a father of six who flew to Israel with his entire nuclear family to be reunited with his mother, have been waiting for more than 20 years. He had forbidden his eldest three children, aged 16 to 23, to marry in Ethiopia — where the average age for marriage is 16 — so that they remained eligible to immigrate.

Others went further to ensure continued eligibility. Chalachew Teshager Gerem, a 35-year-old computer science lecturer at Gondar University, chose to remain unmarried even without a parental veto on marriage, he told JTA.

With the money from selling their farm, the Gerem family was able to afford to send all their children, aged 17 to 35, to high school and university to prepare them to better integrate into Israel’s modern society, the father of the family said at his home during a visit that the Jewish Agency’s staff of 20 in Ethiopia organized for journalists.

in Israel, Beta Israel Jews with Falash Mura relatives in Ethiopia mounted in 1992 the first campaign to let their relatives in. Activists for this cause unfurled a banner reading: “I want my mother, I want my father” at a rally where politicians responsible for the 1991 airlift, known as Operation Solomon, expected to bask in the community’s gratitude, Feldmann, the Jewish Agency envoy, recalled.

The integration of all Ethiopians has been slow, painful but ultimately successful, Feldmann said.

“I was naive. I thought it would take a generation. Now I think it will take several,” said Feldmann, who first came to Ethiopia almost 40 years ago. “But it’s happening.”..

As the plane with the Falash Mura immigrants took off from Addis Ababa to Israel, Ainadis Kendi, a mother of two in her twenties, and her 3-year-old, Yarid, took in the view of the slopes of the mountains around the capital city of their native country. The 180 newcomers began clapping with excitement as the plane took off, and then again as it prepared to land.

A graduate of Addis Ababa University’s mathematics department, she speaks basic English and is working on her Hebrew, she said. Ahead of the flight, she modified a white dress by embroidering large, blue Stars of David on its hem and sleeves. “This is a festive day,” she explained.

But over the course of the flight, she grew more nervous.

Asked by a journalist about her feelings at that moment, she was visibly embarrassed. Discussing emotions is uncustomary in her culture. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Because I don’t really know the place where we’re going.”

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